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How Europe's rubbish is helping to fuel a fires crisis in Poland

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How Europe's rubbish is helping to fuel a fires crisis in Poland

Credit: Szymon Pluta
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Europe is sending more of its waste to Poland and it’s helping to fuel a major increase in rubbish fires, it’s been claimed.

Poland has seen 63 such blazes since January and they are on course to more than treble compared with last year.

Greenpeace Poland says it fears the illegal fires are releasing dangerous toxins into the air and soil.

Experts say they are happening because waste importers are exposing a legal loophole that allows some rubbish to be stored for up to three years before it is burnt for energy.

Instead of buying the technology to burn the rubbish or sending it for incineration, they are simply setting it on fire to save money, according to Marek Jozefiak, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Poland.

“It’s huge,” Jozefiak told Euronews in a telephone interview. “Each and every day there is another fire somewhere in the country.”

“It’s very urgent and it shows how incompetent or non-functioning our state is,” he added. “Strengthening environmental protection is a real big issue and it should be a priority.”

Poland imported 733,000 tonnes of waste in 2017, twice as much as two years earlier, according to Polish media, quoting figures from the country’s chief inspectorate of environmental protection.

The waste is reported to come mainly from Germany, the UK, Italy and Austria and it could increase further.

China has recently banned plastic waste imports from the EU but it’s unclear whether this is a reason for Poland’s current spate of rubbish fires.

“From what I can see most of the people are really frustrated because of the fires,” said Bartosz Jakubczyński, 22, who highlighted the issue in a post on Reddit. “They happen on a daily basis and we don't see any chance for improvement right now.

“People are afraid that pollution could affect their health — after the last two winters a lot of them realised about the problem with smog and air pollution in Poland.

“The tension on the government is growing but still there is no plan to improve air quality, so people are afraid that they also won't do anything to prevent the next fires.”

Poland’s environment ministry did not immediately respond to Euronews’ request to respond.

Jozefiak said the government had vowed to rid the country of its “rubbish mafia” by increasing environmental inspections and preparing a law that will improve how businesses obtain permits for operating in the sector.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, vowed last week to tackle the issue.

"We cannot fight with smog on the one hand, and on the other hand, allow our health to be destroyed through such environmental poisoning," he said.